Picking up a history book means looking in the past that has all but been forgotten by the present tense. We get a portal to the world we can no longer experience firsthand and we see how the roles people played back in those days evolved into more appropriate occupations. Yet, with the advancements over thousands of years, jobs that once existed no longer do. Here are some of the jobs that have disappeared over time:
1. Rat Catcher
Somebody paid the Pied Piper. Rat catching was actually a profitable and common job for many centuries, and while these brave souls did not play pipes, they did receive some fame. For example, one man named Jack Black claimed to be Queen Victoria’s personal rat catcher.
Others made a killing by selling the rats they caught in gilded cages to wealthy ladies. Yet, the major risk was that getting bit or even simply handling the rats posed a huge risk of infection and disease. Would you risk the bubonic plague to save the city? I wouldn’t.
2. Night soil collectors
Probably the most gag-inducing job on this list. If you thought your job was bad, how about gathering up night soil for a living? “Night soil” is a lovely euphemism for excrement.
Those tasked with collecting fecal matter went from privy to cesspit to chamber pot, aiming to get enough for crop fertilization. By the late Victorian period, the invention of the sewer system, as well as the realization that human poo is a health risk, put these Midnight Mechanics out of work.
3. Leech collectors
Here is another fun role (not)! Leech collectors were paid to roll up their pant legs and use their flesh as bait for leeches. Once they accumulated enough leeches on their legs, the collectors would pluck off the parasites then sell them to doctors for bloodletting and other medicinal purposes.
Leech collecting was a hectic job. First, the water was cold. Second, the collectors often became ill from blood loss and infections caused by the leeches. Thirdly, by 1900, the only bloodsucking leech in Britain had been decimated by the sheer amount of harvesting done, so the job soon became moot.
If you read Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, you may remember the hero working as a moirologist for a short time. During the 19th century, funerals were considered a status symbol. To flaunt money, wealthy families hired professional criers, i.e. the moirologist. However, this role soon fell out of popularity in the 1900s.
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5. Ice cutters
Long before the fridge was invented and climate change started melting everything, ice cutting was a thing. The cutters would go to frozen lakes and basically carve out enormous chunks of ice. Then, these workers would haul the ice to cellars, for example, and place the ice inside to aid the preservation of food and other perishables. The job was dangerous and often done in the harshest of wintry conditions.
6. The knocker up
No, this has nothing to do with getting “knocked up.” Rather, the knocker upper was a human alarm clock who would arrive at someone’s window at the appropriate time to give them an early morning start.
Young adults, women, and even policemen would do the job for some money, but it was quite dangerous, considering they were not allowed to leave until the person came to the window… usually with a full chamber pot.
7. Switchboard operator
Before satellites and telephone signals, there were switchboards and their operators. These people would connect long-distance calls and do the tasks that are now done digitally, like switching lines.
You can call them professional body snatchers, if you would like. Resurrectionists were never associated with necromancy, but they were hired to help raise the dead. Jokes aside, these laborers dug up corpses for scientific experiments since as early as 3rd Century B.C.
Around the 1700s and 1800s, when medicine was beginning to advance, the demand for dead bodies skyrocketed. Body snatching was a plentiful job, but it was cut short by the 1838 Anatomy Act, which allowed people to leave their bodies for science instead of being illegally exhumed.
Here is a straightforward job: the lector. This person was tasked with reader to factory workers to keep them entertained during monotonous duties. However, the downside to this was where their payment came from. The laborers themselves pooled money to hire the lector and some chose to read the most boring material out there: union publications.
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How would you like any of these jobs? Granted, technology has definitely done away with simple tasks like knocking on people’s windows. We can also thank advancements in common sense for doing away with night soil and rat collecting too. So next time you think retail sucks, just remember: you could have been an ice cutter.